The judges representing the United States were: Helen Pak, senior vice president of creative at Disney; Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer and partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners; Ali Brown, president at PRETTYBIRD; Tim Gordon, co-chief creative officer at Droga5; Kathleen Hall, corporate vice president-brand, advertising & research at Microsoft; Davud Karbassioun, global president, commercials & branded entertainment at Pulse Films; Ron Lewis, group creative director at Grey Health & Wellness; Tiffany Rolfe, global chief creative officer at R/GA; Oliver Fuselier, managing director at Great Guns USA; Heidi Black, editor and partner at The Whitehouse; and Manuel Borde, global chief creative officer at VMLY&R Commerce.
The jury represented a first for The Immortal Awards. After last year’s expansion to five regional juries, the global award show from Little Black Book has this year implemented a series of local juries that will feed into regional heats before the global round of judging, creating somewhat of a World Cup of advertising. To begin with, the jurors watched the reel of 33 entries before deciding on which they collectively deemed worthy of proceeding to the next round of North American judging, which will pit work from the United States against that of its northern neighbour, Canada.
Much of the work was a representation of what has been a tumultuous year for the USA. “One of my jury colleagues said it rightly, ‘the sign of the times’,” says Manuel. “No doubt 2020 and part of 2021 has been a very emotional year full of social change and purpose. And we saw it in the top work that made it through.”
“I am happy to see that work with meaning seemed to carry the most resonance,” adds Ali. “That films or experimental pieces that at their core had a concept intended to improve society or help those within it seemed to shine. To me that underscores that brands truly do have the power to educate and inform and that as an industry we can create creatively relevant and powerful work to get those messages across.”
Davud adds: “Despite the challenges of last year, I was inspired by the diversity and quality of the work coming out of the US. Whilst the limitations imposed by the lockdown in many ways affected how things were made, it also seemed to directly inspire some truly outstanding problem solving and creativity.
“The welcome and overdue overcorrection on championing diversity, inclusivity and social justice played heavily in the work that resonated the most. Some of the work was as smart and moving as it was provocative and effective. Whilst we are only scratching the surface at the moment, it's an exciting example of how far we can take real responsibility and hold ourselves (and each other) accountable to properly drive urgent positive change through what we make and how we make it.”
“As we come out of an unbelievably challenging period of time, we’re continuing to see a a lot of provocative work but it’s nice to see themes of hope and connection,” says Helen.
Of the nine pieces that made it though to the regionals, one that garnered a notably high amount of praise was Beats by Dre’s ‘You Love Me’, the pitch-perfect piece of filmmaking by PRETTYBIRD director Melina Matsoukas and LA agency Translation that poses the question, ‘You Love Black Culture, But Do You Love Me?’. Davud said, “the Beats film to me is a masterpiece, and a great example of the power of craft and creativity”, while Manuel mentioned that it’s “definitely one to be remembered and used as a reference for years to come”.
Ali actually worked on this particular piece of work and tells us that its birth was far from simple. “I am fortunate to know the passion, emotion, and bravery that went into making that piece and I think it’s one of those rare examples of alchemy when you actually can feel all that in the final film,” she says. “It didn’t have an easy birth. It took an agency who strongly believed that their client needed to address what was happening at that moment in our world, one of the bravest clients in advertising who agreed to deliver a message that transcended product sales, and a director as visionary as Melina Matsoukas to create a concept that didn’t reflect the moment but instead showed the world as she wanted people to see it.
“With the powerful words of Lena Waithe, the incredible music by Solange Knowles, and the perfect lensing of Malik Sayeed (all longtime collaborators and friends of hers), Melina created breath-taking imagery of Black joy and the normalcy of black life, making the statement that simply to exist as a Black person in this country was a revolutionary act. And people heard it.”
Two projects that led to fruitful discussion were Reddit’s unconventional, static five-second Super Bowl ad and Mastercard’s ‘True Name’, which allows people to display their preferred names on their payment cards. “I’m just looking for things that do it differently, that attack problems from a fresh angle,” says Tim. “Not to mention ideas where you can see a lot of care went into the thinking, the execution and how it lives in the world. In the case of these three ideas (we were also discussing Blacktag’s ‘Black Art Is Money’) they have almost nothing in common but do all of what I mentioned above. They are inventive and exciting and approach what they are trying to achieve in a creatively fresh way. All three will leave a mark.”
Davud also singled out Mastercard for praise both during and after judging. “Whilst I naturally gravitate to the film work there were some incredibly innovative projects that made our short list,” he says. “One example was the Mastercard ‘True Name’ project which for me is another real standout piece of the year. Such a simple thought, that has such a massively positive impact. It's genius! And one of those ideas and projects that makes you proud to work in this industry.”
According to Oliver, the City of Chicago’s ‘Boards of Change’ has every ingredient for success both from an effectiveness perspective and in the case of being award worthy. “It actually changed the ability for a full sector of people to have a voice where it didn’t exist prior to this spot,” he says. “This group of smart people who made this ad actually helped to change culture. For the boards to be used for the purpose of allowing the voiceless to have a voice was a moment of change for me… life altering for many! It could have changed the outcome of the election of our presidency.”
“I’m a huge believer that advertising can either move product or move people,” says Ali, this time discussing Change the Ref’s ‘The Lost Class’, which saw two high-level gun advocates tricked into giving a speech to 3,044 empty chairs representing each student killed by gun violence that should have graduated this year. “By ‘moving people’ that can literally be getting them out of their seats to take action or to feel something in their hearts and minds. Change the Ref is a consummate example to me on a piece that moves people to take action and that just takes your breath away. It hits you in your soul. What they pulled off as a ‘stunt’ (which sounds so reductive so let’s call it a feat) and the impact of that visual statement just blew me away and shows the power that we all have when we use our creative powers for good.”
The full list of finalists is: Beats by Dre ‘You Love Me’; Blacktag ‘Black Art Is Black Money’; Change the Ref ‘The Lost Class’; City of Chicago ‘Boards of Change’; Color of Change ‘Pedestal Project’; Mastercard ‘True Name’; Michelob ULTRA ‘Courtside’; Reddit ‘Superb Owl’; Facebook ‘No Comply’ and ‘Skate Nation Ghana’. You can check them all out here.
“I love the spirit of the Immortals,” concludes Davud. “Both in its unapologetic simplistic design but also in its messaging. We champion work that has meaningful impact, enters into popular culture and by definition will stand the test of time. In the mantra of its chairman, Sir John Hegarty, we are championing both the idea and craft and how they serve each other.”
The Canadian finalists are set to be announced tomorrow (Wednesday 7th September), while the North American round of judging will take place on Friday 15th September before the final, global round on Thursday 18th November.